Wednesday, May 3, 2017


Four score and one years ago, our country's blues mythology tells us, an itinerate country blues musician, Robert Johnson, stood at a crossroads in Mississippi and made a deal with the devil. To become a great musician, perhaps the greatest ever, all he had to do was sell his soul to the devil. Johnson, legend has it, made the deal. For the next two years, 1936 to 1938, he was incredibly prolific, writing and performing dozens of blues songs which, when they were fully discovered and circulated after his untimely, premature death in 1938 at the age of  only 27,  came to be recognized as true classics which established Johnson as a legendary blues musician whose influence was seen in all the great blues and rock music that was to follow. Eric Clapton, for one, has called Johnson "the most important blues singer that ever lived", and Johnson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at its first induction ceremony in 1986.

Why bring up the story of a blues musician, perhaps partially true, perhaps more mythological fiction than true, in a political commentary?  Many of us who celebrate the overall progressive direction that has occurred in the history of the United States since the Declaration of Independence in 1776, now find that hard-fought-for progress to be under serious attack, under threat of reversal, with reverting to a much more restrictive, divisive, unjust society a real possibility. It is akin to the US standing at a crucial crossroads, perhaps the most significant  one faced since the Civil War, uncertain which road will be followed, and which side will prevail. A significant portion of our population, 35 to 40% if the polls are to be believed, are steadfast in their support of Donald Trump, accepting whatever gyrations in his alternative facts, twitter words, or policy statements he is feeding them at the moment, with his Republican enablers in Congress seemingly swallowing their principle and their pride in going along with him in the hope of furthering the Republican agenda, especially in rolling back the social, human  rights, and economic equality progress our government has made in the last 50 years, in any way they can.

Trump's unexpected victory has activated the progressive, more inclusive, socially responsible factions of our society in ways not seen since the Vietnam War protests and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's. In contrast, the Far Right, and the more reactionary elements of our society that came out more fully in the open after Obama's election and were adamant in protesting his eight years as president, succeeded in gained a strong foothold within the Republican Party, quieting its more moderate voices.  Trump and his anti-establishment, throwback views were very much  to the liking of this far right faction of the party, creating the energy among Republican voters that allowed them to virtually capture the party from its established leaders and then prevail over their uninspired, dis-organized Democratic opponents in the general election. Hence, the current standoff at the crossroads. Progressives  are struggling to find a way to return the nation to resuming on a path towards more social and economic equality, more acceptance of diversity, and more respectful of our natural environment and the scientific knowledge that has played such a significant role in human progress.  Blocking their way, they are engaged in having to fight against a virtually alien immediate governmental power structure, one that has very vocal supporters, and with a seemingly opposite agenda.

Trump is almost daily revealing that he does not have the background, the knowledge, or the temperament to be President. It is easy to find fault with him as our leader.  It is much more difficult to find ways to effectively combat the vast array of Americans, both the ordinary citizens and those in responsible leadership positions, who are continuing to grant his administration their support. With policies that if fully imposed would literally turn back the clock by decades on advances affecting the social, economic, healthcare, environmental, and educational well-being of the vast majority of our citizens, the lines could not be more distinctly drawn. Democrats during the past 25 years have admittedly been weak in effectively pursuing a strong progressive agenda, and the anti-establishment, Sanders, Warren wing of the party have given and are giving expression to this failure. The  Obama administration did attempt to move the nation in a generally positive direction, but was blocked and largely unsuccessful in this endeavor.  The direction Trump is attempting to take the nation is clearly reverse gear; opposite the general progressive direction of our nation's history. The most notable Republican presidents would be aghast at current Republican  policies, Lincoln protesting their tolerance of civil rights violations, Teddy Roosevelt fighting both the lack of respect and protection of our natural environment, and excessive deference to corporate influence, profit, and power. Eisenhower would not tolerate the presidential arrogance and facility at glibly lying, nor its emphasis on loosely-controlled military and defense expenditures. Even Nixon, Reagan, and the Bushes would obviously be often shaking their heads in disbelief at the antics of this administration and current Congressional leadership. There is much to protest, but will the attempts take hold, and return us to a more positive path?

Right now all the real power is still in the hands of the Trump administration and a subservient Congress which has yet to challenge him in telling ways. Little has changed yet in actual policy, after just over 100 days, but the threats are there, and they are all too real. Democrats are not united, and not effective in their opposition. Various citizen groups are mobilizing, have real potential, and are not likely to disappear. They have, however, not come together with a clear focus or agenda.  There are so many elements of the Trump agenda to fight, all bear significant importance, all variously central to different factions of the progressive electorate. So the nation stands, at this moment, at the crossroads, the lines are drawn, the feelings are intense, but no clear movement has yet been made.

Will the same energy be fully activated that has carried our nation generally forward, often hesitantly and haltingly, throughout our past history?  Our nation's founding fathers had  progressive intentioms, their lofty words and intent framed their hopes for the country and its future citizens, but they knew it would be a long term process turning their words and purposes into actual policy and reality.  They knew that future advances would be achieved only through the dedication, commitment, and struggles of citizens willing to work for continuing advances and deal with emerging challenges, new realities, and serious threats. Such are the crossroads where we now stand. The crossroad Robert Johnson stood at when he made his deal with the devil; while it may have had an effect on his life and on musical history,  is likely more mythological than fully real.  The political crossroad our nation stands at is all too real, can have a massive effect on all our lives, and on the world we live in.  Let's choose wisely, and ensure the necessary energy is expended, by all of us who care about our nation's future, in the right direction!